Libel conviction raises cost of free expression in Philippines -SEAPA

June 6, 2008

The following is a statement from SEAPA member Center for Media
Freedom and Responsibility:

Libel conviction raises cost of free expression in Philippines

THE Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility views with alarm
the conviction for libel and sentencing to a prison term as well as
payment of fines of Daily Tribune publisher and editor Ninez

The six months to two years’ imprisonment sentence imposed by Judge
Winlove Dumayas of Branch 59 of the Makati Regional Trial Court
ignores a Supreme Court memorandum urging the imposition of fines
rather than prison terms on journalists convicted of libel.

At the same time however, the fine of over P5 million Judge Dumayas
has ordered Cacho-Olivares to pay is excessive, and underscores the
truth of what CMFR has long argued: that not only libel’s being a
criminal offense in the Philippines, but also the often excessive
fines imposed on journalists, hamper free expression, abridge press
freedom, and compromise the democratic dialogue.

Unless overturned, the conviction of Cacho-Olivares escalates the
costs of free expression in the Philippines. It ironically comes at
a time when the United Nations, precisely on the basis of such
Supreme Court initiatives as its memorandum enjoining lower courts
not to impose prison sentences in libel cases, has lauded the
Philippines for its alleged commitment to human rights.

Congress must now take the necessary steps to amend the libel law.
Criminal libel has always been a threat against the free press and
free expression in general. The possibility–and, in the case of
Davao journalist Alex Adonis, the reality– of imprisonment is a
constraint on press reporting and fair comment. The threat of
crippling fines has also had the same effect. Both will continue to
threaten press freedom and free expression in the Philippines
unless libel is decriminalized and a ceiling fixed on fines in
libel cases.

Southeast Asian Press Alliance.
538/1 Samsen Rd., Dusit, Bangkok 10300.
Tel: 66-2-2435579, 66-2-2435373, Fax: 66-2-2448749


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